On June 2, a group of about a dozen people began a 380-mile trek from Avon, CT Arlington National Cemetery – on foot.

Some of the participants were truly rucking, carrying 35-pound camouflage backpacks. While not everyone joined the full weeklong trek, the route itself traced the life of fallen Army Capt. Andrew M. Pedersen-Keel. The group reached their final destination, Arlington National Cemetery, on June 8th, Pedersen-Keel’s birthday.

The idea for the memorial trek was hatched by Chief Warrant Officer Will Reese, an operations officer with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, who served with Pedersen-Keel in Afghanistan.

On the morning of March 11, 2013, Captain Andrew Michael Pedersen-Keel was concluding a patrol briefing when a young Afghan man jumped into the back of an Afghan police pickup truck, grabbed the machine gun mounted on the truck bed, and fired on the Special Forces team. Capt. Pedersen-Keel was killed, along with Staff Sgt. Rex Schad and the team’s Military working dog, BAK.

The APK Charities Corporation was set up in Andrew Pedersen-Keel’s name to raise awareness and support for active, retired, wounded and fallen warriors and their families.

Reese, who sits on APK’s board, was brainstorming ideas beyond a 5k walk and came up with the idea for a “ruck to remember” – R2R. The concept was for everyone to ruck — in other words, walk — a 380-mile route to retrace Pedersen-Keel’s life, beginning in Avon, Connecticut, where Pedersen-Keel was raised, and ending at his grave marker at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. And not just walk 380 miles, but do it wearing a loaded rucksack.

Over the weeklong trek, the group averaged a collective 60 miles a day. They toured the 9/11 memorial in New York City and visited the Statue of Liberty with a boat escort by the New York City Police Department. In Philadelphia they scaled the famous “Rocky” art museum steps and saw the Liberty Bell.

While there were only five people — including Reese’s 13-year-old son, Adrian —in the core march, Reese said more than 100 people participated in the ruck virtually across 11 states and five countries. Collectively, more than $12,000 has been raised for APK Charities.

Ryan Oldenburg, a retired Army special forces medic, told The Baltimore Sun that participating in the ruck with two of his closest friends and being able to share stories has given him a sense of closure after struggling to find himself following his military career.

“We can either die young and be a hero or live forever and tell their stories; there is no in between,” he said. “So, being able to get out and walk and tell those stories and educate people is helping me find my purpose.”

Oldenburg also said he was surprised by the support the group has received along the way, including enthusiastic horns honking and thumbs-up signs. It helped restore his faith in humanity.

“We are getting to live the life that the friends on our flags can’t,” Oldenburg said, referring to the flags the group carried with the names of 35 fallen warriors.

“And we have to make the most of that life.”

That we must, sir. No doubt about it.

Learn more about APK charities, Here: http://nine.li/APK

Learn more about Ruck to Remember, Here http://nine.li/RuckToRemember

IG: @rgrreese @ruck2remember @apkcharities

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